New York News

Alaska rep urges federal takeover of Central Park

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When Alaska state Rep. Kyle Johansen penned a resolution to urge the federal government to take over New York's Central Park, he may not have expected a hearing on the issue let alone a mention in The New York Times.

But he got both.

The resolution from Johansen, a Ketchikan Republican, first reported by The Associated Press, was highlighted in the Times' City Room blog last week. And Monday afternoon the House Resources Committee discussed HJR 31, which argues the federal government's hold on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is akin to labeling Central Park a wilderness area and halting future improvements or development there.

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Public attention is all the resolution will generate for now. One of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Eric Feige of Chickaloon, co-chair of the Resources Committee, on Monday decided to hold the bill in committee pending further discussion.

Johansen uses the resolution, which he acknowledges is a sarcastic swipe at environmentalists and government, to draw a comparison between Central Park and a possibly oil-rich coastal plain at the northwestern tip of the Alaska refuge.

The resolution cites an array of information from a National Geographic report that recalls the island's days as a "remarkably diverse and natural landscape," starting with Dutch explorer Henry Hudson's landing there in 1609. Previous inhabitants of Manhattan include everything from gray wolves to short-beaked dolphins to river otters, according to the resolution, as were Native American tribes like Lenape and Northeastern Algonquin.

Central Park comprises about six percent Manhattan, which is less than 23 square miles in size. The coastal plain, which is the subject of a current bill in Congress and long a source of contention among drilling advocates and environmentalists, makes up around eight percent of the 30,000 square mile refuge.

The natural history and size similarities are the extent of the comparison, but Johansen said it was not meant to be taken literally. His aim was to direct the public's attention to the issue.

"Alaskans are sick and tired of sitting here and being basically a pawn in the environmentalist fundraising issue," Johansen said in a recent interview. "That's why really, frankly, Manhattan was targeted. It's the epicenter for money and for social and environmental movements. Finding that spot right in the heart of where a lot of the opposition to domestic energy is, was the whole point."

Democrat Rep. Mike Doogan of Anchorage and five other Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Chenault, signed on with the measure.

Not everyone agrees with the symbolic aims of the resolution. Fairbanks Democrat Scott Kawasaki, a member of the Resources Committee, considers the hearing a distraction.

Kawasaki railed against the hearing on Facebook, arguing issues on energy and resources he considered more substantive should take priority, and then followed with similar comments at the hearing.

"People in the Lower 48 already sort of have a negative opinion of Alaskans," Kawasaki said. "Because of 'The Simpsons Movie,' they think that we're paid to live here. Because of our former governor, they all think we're illiterate," he said, citing "Saturday Night Live" portrayals of former Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Now add to that list petty and juvenile."

Johansen argued the resolution and the hearing were justified, even with plenty of other worthwhile priorities in queue.

"To say that this is petty, juvenile and a complete waste of time, I think, is inaccurate," Johansen said. "Any time we can bring the issue of opening up ANWR to America, to get more oil in the pipe ... it's worth it."

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